Sept. 22, 2017
By John Heisler
There has been rain (sometimes heavy). There have been rallies.
There have been heroes galore on both sides.
There have been overtimes (twice, both games won by Michigan State in 2005 and 2010).
And all that’s just in the recent meetings on the football field between Notre Dame and the Spartans.
With Notre Dame’s commitment to playing five Atlantic Coast Conference opponents annually, the Irish don’t have room on the slate for Michigan State, Michigan and Purdue every year the way schedules read for many seasons. So, if anything, that makes it even more interesting when these old rivals match up.
Here are some areas to check out Saturday night in East Lansing:
1. Big-boy football. In many ways these teams like to line up against each other because there are no surprises. These historically are tough, hard-nosed, physical football squads that would prefer to attempt to plow their way through opposing defenses. It’s not often fancy or full of finesse--and generally both Notre Dame and Michigan State like it that way.
2. The atmosphere. The Irish got a taste of life on the road last week at Boston College, but there will be nearly twice as many fans on hand at Spartan Stadium Saturday night as there were last weekend. A prime-time setting and a national television audience on FOX mean there will be plenty of people watching this one.
3. The comeback trail. Both these programs took an uncharacteristic dip a season ago—after combining to finish 22-5 the year before in 2015—and so a victory in East Lansing would be another step in the right direction for one of these programs. This is the third of four straight home games to open the year for Michigan State. This is the second in a row and the second in a stretch of three Notre Dame road games in four weeks. Both teams play seven home games in 2017.
4. The quarterbacks. Brandon Wimbush may not have had his best day throwing the football last week at Boston College—yet he finished with some record-setting numbers. No Irish quarterback had run for 200 yards in a game the way he did (actually 207). No Notre Dame quarterback had run for four touchdowns in a game, and no Irish player at any position had done that in 33 years. He was the ringleader of a Notre Dame offense that finished with 611 total yards (the second time in three games the Irish have reached the 600 mark). Meanwhile Michigan State’s Brian Lewerke has staked his claim with his feet, leading the Spartans in rushing 150 net yards in those two wins combined. Wimbush has thrown for 490 combined yards in three games—Lewerke for 411 combined yards in two outings. Expect both still-developing signal-callers to have to make some plays in the air Saturday night.
5. Who can run it better? Notre Dame junior captain Josh Adams ranks fifth nationally in rushing after somewhat quietly finishing with the fourth-best single-game rushing effort in Notre Dame history last week (224 yards, also the fourth-best individual FBS effort in 2017). Meanwhile, Michigan State’s run defense has allowed only 91.5 ground yards over two outings. The Spartans present their own diversified running attack, with 215 ground yards coming against Bowling Green (Madre London had 54 and a TD) and 296 coming against Western Michigan (86 from junior LJ Scott).
And one more for good measure:
It’s going to be hot on Saturday night. Which team is in better shape to finish the game? A week ago Notre Dame scored 21 fourth-period points and rushed for 183 yards in the final quarter alone. The nature of this matchup suggests that somebody is going to need to make some late-game plays to ensure a victory.